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Movies | Full of biblical imagery, the latest Keanu Reeves film is a muddled jumble of supernatural spirituality

Issue: "Social Security breach," Feb. 19, 2005

Constantine, a new film based on the Hellblazer series of graphic novels, is full of biblical imagery. But a smoothie is also full of fruit, which doesn't mean that the final product bears much resemblance to its ingredients. Constantine is a similarly muddled jumble of supernatural spirituality that doesn't have the benefit of tasting like a dessert or containing a modicum of nutritional value.

That's not to say that Constantine (rated R for violence and demonic images) is completely lacking in intriguing ideas-just that none are fleshed out or coherent enough to make the film's explicit imagery especially palatable.

John Constantine has been to hell and back. Or so claims the movie's tag line. Keanu Reeves plays Constantine as a disillusioned noir figure, cast once to the depths for committing suicide, only to be sent back to earth to better utilize his special gifts. Those gifts include the ability to see the devil's minions at work in the world. When demons break the rules (God and Satan have a longstanding "bet" for the souls of men that includes restrictions on what they can do on earth), Constantine sends them back from whence they came.

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Constantine doesn't relish his task-he just hopes that it earns him a second chance at heading up instead of down when his time comes again. The angel Gabriel (a self-consciously androgynous Tilda Swinton) regularly berates Constantine for the futility of this goal-she/he rightly points out that one can't earn salvation. But that's about the only thing right about Gabriel, a supremely odd character that fits no theological or, one is tempted to believe, logical mold.

Police detective Rachel Weisz enters Constantine's world when her mentally unstable twin sister (Ms. Weisz again) kills herself. Searching for answers, she attaches herself to Constantine, which turns out to be a very bad idea.

A few useful themes creep into Constantine, not the least of which is the now rare acknowledgment that a place called hell exists. But for all the cross imagery in the film, Jesus figures as little more than a historical reference point-Christ's sufficient, atoning work on Calvary certainly has nothing to do with Constantine's salvation.

Youth group leaders eager to find a cultural reference point for spiritual discussions will find Constantine useful primarily as a catalogue of theological misunderstandings (such as dualism, to take one central example). But these can be found in numerous other sources, including the much more entertaining (and suspiciously similar) Matrix films.


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